It’s been a strong season for San Jose Earthquakes fullbacks. Nick Lima has split time between left back and right back in 2020, and remains severely underrated around the league for his two-way play.
And Marcos Lopez, who struggled in his first season in MLS last year and didn’t play in the MLS is Back Tournament after having an emergency appendectomy, blossomed in the final months of the regular season and looks like a left back with a very bright future ahead of him.
For the most part, Tommy Thompson has started at right back when Lopez hasn’t been available, with Lima moving over to left back. Chances are, that will be the plan when San Jose face Sporting Kansas City in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs next Sunday.
Lopez is out on international duty with Peru at the moment, and with MLS mandating players on international duty must quarantine for nine days upon return, the math does not add up for the young defender to be available for the crucial playoff clash.
While some teams, such as Sporting KC, appeared to ask national teams not to call up their players for this window, the Earthquakes allowed three players in total to head out, including Lopez, and head coach Matias Almeyda fully supported Lopez playing for his country this month.
“I think there’s a quality on Marcos’ part,” Almeyda told reporters via interpreter after the Earthquakes’ regular season finale last week. “I was a football player, I was a national team player, and when you get called up to the national team for World Cup qualifiers at such a young age, it’s hard for your head to be in and out, because you’re focused on your country. For certain moments Marcos played well, and then like everyone else made some mistakes. But generally I think the team played well beyond some mistakes they made. It’s not easy playing a game knowing you’re going to represent your country. Subconsciously, you’re thinking about not getting injured, you’re thinking about many things. But those of us who have lived this path can explain it. And we also understand it.”
Enter Thompson. The 25-year-old, in his seventh season with the Quakes, has become a jack of all trades for his team.
“Over the past two years under this management I’ve played the most as an outside back,” Thompson said last week. “In this system, with the amount the outside backs attack I feel like I can really contribute. But in MLS I’ve had experience as a forward, center mid, winger, outside back, you name it, so I’m comfortable all over the field. But I’ve really enjoyed outside back in this system. Wherever Matias sees the best fit for me, for whatever game it happens to be, I’ll be there and contribute to the team any way I can.”
San Jose have an added disadvantage or benefit, depending on the outcome, as they’ll be playing Sporting KC for the first time in 2020 in the playoffs. Coming off a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders to close the regular season, Thompson thinks that result will be a wake-up call for the Earthquakes ahead of the postseason.
“This team has shown a lot of character,” he explained. “We’ve gone through great moments this year, we’ve gone through extremely difficult moments as well. There’s a belief in this group that whoever’s on the field can get the job done. We’re going to learn from our mistakes today, Seattle’s a great team, and they made us pay. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re going to be as sharp as we can against Kansas City, and this game is a good reminder to make sure that against the top teams in this league, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal for one minute.”
But San Jose is a team that has held a fantastic team ethic under Almeyda, and Thompson thinks they’ll have a good shot in the playoffs.
“We’ll be full of confidence and ready to go,” he said.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.